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The Bat - Jo Nesbø

”A sudden, uncontrollable fury rose in him, and he cast around for something to smash. He snatched the whiskey bottle from the table and was about to launch it at the wall, but changed his mind at the last moment. 
Lifelong training in self-control, he thought, opening the bottle and putting it to his mouth.”

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As you read this novel you are going to realize just how much sarcasm is loaded into that statement. Harry Hole, pronounced Hoo-leh, is dispatched to Sydney Australia to investigate the murder of a Norwegian woman. He soon discovers with the help of the Australian half caste Aboriginal officer, Andrew Kensington, that this murder is not an isolated case. The victim is one of a string of blond women who have been killed over a series of months. 

This is a different Harry Hole than the man that shows up inRedbreast and Nemesis which are number three and four in the series. Because the American publisher decided to publish those books before publishing The Bat I started the series in the middle. I rarely do that. I usually insist on reading a series from the beginning because I find in later books there are generally significant revelations that may harken back to an earlier book in the series. In this case instead of ordering an intensive Rosetta Stone course on learning Norwegian I decided to suspend my controlling need for order and read book three first.

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The Jo Nesbo Invasion

I now understand why the US publishers elected to start with book three. We have been experiencing an invasion of Scandinavian mysteries similar to the invasion of Rock and Roll from England in the 1960s. You can’t swing a backpack in a bookstore anymore without knocking down a display of the latest author to be touted as the new Stieg Larsson. I too have been seduced by the work of our Nordic neighbors. In this book Hole spends the entire time in Australia, so introducing this regionally misplaced character to a reading public desperate for a new mystery from the frozen North doesn’t really work. Now that his works have been doing very well in the English speaking world publishers have decided to go back and publish the first two in the series. 

His Australian colleagues call him Holy instead of Hoo-leh and Harry makes the decision that Holy isn’t too bad and doesn’t bother to correct their pronunciation. He prefers it to being called something most people associate with an orifice. 

He meets a lovely Swedish girl named Birgitta. Everything is going well between them until Harry falls of the wagon. Andrew Kensington ends up dead and even though Harry only knew him a week they had become good friends. Harry wraps both arms around the shock and the grief of his friend’s passing. Resuming drinking is an allure he can no longer ignore. Now there are drunks and then there are Harry Hole drinking binges. 

”Harry woke with a splitting headache. The light hurt his eyes, and no sooner had he registered that he was lying under a blanket than he had to throw himself to the side. The vomit came in quick spurts and the contents of his stomach splashed on the stone floor. He fell back on the bench and felt the gall sting his nose as he asked himself the classic question: where on earth am I?”

During the times that he is halfway sober he continues to investigate the serial killings and the death of Andrew Kensington. The more he finds out about Kensington the more secrets that are revealed. These shrouded bits of information lead to more secrets and many of them seem to involve a friend of Andrews, a German gay man named Otto. He is a friendly chap and Harry soon learns just how friendly. 

”Let’s make a tasteless and wonderfully vulgar wager, “ Otto said, his eyes glinting with amusement. “I bet one hundred dollars that this soft, slim hand of yours will have felt my vitals before you leave for Norway. Do you dare to accept the bet?”

Harry loses this bet, but you will have to read the book to find out how. 

The more Harry drinks the more maudlin he becomes. He seems to be punishing himself for past crimes (which are revealed in vivid detail in this book). The death of Kensington brings back the past, but it seems drinking himself into a staggering state of ineptitude is not enough. He decides to hire a hooker and of course he gets caught by Birgitta. One must destroy one’s life completely before one can make better decisions it seems. I only wish that Birgitta would have hopped the next flight out of there back to Sweden or Paris or Timbuktu anywhere to get away from Harry.

Harry without barely a shred of evidence makes suppositions that are not only incorrect, but turn out to be colossally wrong. As he should be, he is a much better investigator in later books. He is more violent and reckless as a young man. Aren’t we all? I spend a large part of this book not liking Harry very much. We do, though, see glimmers of the seasoned cop he will become.

”Does this remind you of anything you’ve seen before?”
Andrew shrugged. “When you’ve worked here long enough all murders remind you of something you’ve seen before.”
No, Harry thought. It’s the other way round. Work long enough and you see the tiny nuances each murder has, the details that distinguish one from another and make each one unique.

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I was fortunate enough to get my books by Jo Nesbo signed when he was in Houston recently.

This book has a nice twisty plot and certainly kept me turning the pages. I didn’t mind spending time in Australia even though if I’d been able to step into the book I certainly wouldn’t have spent any time with Harry. I prefer spending my vacations not wringing vomit out of my clothes. I do wonder if reading a couple of the later books didn’t add to my enjoyment in reading this book. I meet the older Harry and then meet the younger Harry several years later. It made me appreciate the man, still flawed, but maybe not as much so, that Harry becomes a few books later. He still gets in trouble with his superiors. He still screws up relationships, but I feel more sympathy when it happens to the older Harry. 3.5 stars.